Since then the cute little Mazda has won hearts and minds with its combination of low price, driving enjoyment and simplicity.
So much so, in fact, that it is now in the Guinness Book of World Records as the best-selling two-seater sports car of all time with more than 730,000 models sold around the globe.
So it’s no surprise that the arrival of a new version of the MX-5 is treated with such importance, both inside Mazda and out.
The new model retains that cheeky charm and the simple lines of its predecessors, but now it has a more masculine feel thanks to a more aggressive look at the front and a wider body with blistered wheel-arches.
And despite growing up and out, the MX-5 retains the simple front engine/rear-wheel drive layout which gives a rewarding driving experience.
But unfortunately the model on test, the entry-level 1.8, doesn’t have the necessary oomph to make it a thrilling drive. With 123bhp on offer, getting the MX-5 up to speed is a drawn-out process, with the engine taking on a coarse note as it gets higher up the rev range.
The gearbox is a short-throw five-speed manual item which has enough feel to make it ideal for snap changes – which you’ll need to keep the engine spinning higher up the rev range if you’re trying to make decent progress.
The ride is firm, as you’d expect in a sports car, but it may prove too hard for some as the whole cabin shudders if the road surface is anything less than perfect.
However, at least the handling is spot-on, thanks to that time-honoured chassis layout.
The MX-5 turns into corners sharply and there’s plenty of feedback through the chunky steering wheel.
Inside, the cabin is a model of simplicity, with the speedo and rev counter dominating the instrument binnacle, while the centre console minics that found in the MX-5’s bigger brother, the RX-8. But anyone more than 6ft tall will find it a tight fit, and a real nightmare getting in and out, as well as having to revert to a knees-around-the- steering-wheel driving position. The Mazda just isn’t a big enough car to accommodate taller drivers.
And the quality of materials used inside isn’t particularly good either, with the plastics having a brittle, cheap look and feel. Despite not living up to the driving experience offered by its predecessor, it is worth remembering that the little Mazda is very well priced and offers drivers low company car tax bills for a sports car.
I’m sure there will be many user-choosers out there who will be happy to accept the compromises to have the cute roadster on their drive.
Delivered price, standard car (P11D value): £15,412
CO2 emissions (g/km): 171
BIK % of P11D in 2006: 21%
Graduated VED rate: £150
Insurance group: 11
Combined mpg: 38.7
CAP Monitor residual value: £7,350/48%
Depreciation 13.43 pence per mile x 60,000: £8,058
Maintenance 2.45 pence per mile x 60,000: £1,470
Fuel 10.74 pence per mile x 60,000: £6,444
Wholelife cost 26.62 pence per mile x 60,000: £15,972
Typical contract hire rate: £317
At a glace
We don’t like:
Three rivals to consider
SELECTING rivals for the MX-5 is a tricky business as its most obvious competitor, Toyota’s MR2, is nearly £2,000 more expensive. Instead, we’ve chosen convertibles around the £15,500 mark. As the MINI is cheaper than the others, we’ve included the Pepper Pack, which adds 15-inch alloys, leather steering wheel and computer among other items, and the TLC service pack to bring it up to parity.
THE MINI’S TLC service package, which provides free servicing for five years and 50,000 miles, helps bring the service, maintenance and repair costs right down. Running the MINI on a fleet would cost £1,200 over three years/ 60,000 miles. However, its three open-top rivals are close behind, with the Mazda MX-5 likely to cost £1,470, the Volkswagen Beetle £1,524 and the Vauxhall Tigra only about £50 more.
THE Mazda and MINI tie for first place in this sector, with manufacturers claiming a combined fuel economy figure of 38.7mpg. If your drivers can match these figures, which experience suggests we would doubt, then expect a fuel bill of just under £6,500 over three years/60,000 miles. Vauxhall claims the Tigra will return 36.7mpg, which equates to a bill of £6,798, while the Volkswagen has an average of 36.2mpg – or just under £6,900 in unleaded petrol.
UNSURPRISINGLY, the MINI has a class-leading residual value forecast, reflecting just how popular BMW’s baby is. CAP estimates that the Cooper will retain 48% of its cost new after three years/60,000 miles, leaving a cash lost figure of £8,325. The Mazda MX-5 is the new kid on the block and its freshness is reflected in an RV figure of 48%, leaving a cash lost total of £8,250. The Volkswagen is estimated to retain 42%, while the Tigra will keep 36% of its value.
THE MINI secures a convincing wholelife costs victory, with wins in every category. Not only is it the cheapest at the front end, it has the best RV forecast, the lowest SMR bills and is the most fuel efficient. Over three years/60,000 miles it will cost a fleet £15,180 to run, which is nearly £800 less than the second-placed Mazda. The Volkswagen and Vauxhall are well adrift in this comparison, costing £17,484 and £18,348 respectively.
Emissions and BIK tax rates
ALTHOUGH the MINI Cooper Convertible falls into a tax band higher than the Mazda due to increased CO2 emissions, it costs the same in company car tax thanks to its lower P11d price. Both will cost a 22% taxpayer £59 a month in benefit-in-kind tax, compared with £68 a month for the Vauxhall and Volkswagen. The Mazda, MINI and Tigra will cost £150 a year in VED rates, while the Beetle Convertible will cost £165 thanks to its slightly higher CO2 emissions.
THIS contest comes down to a choice between the Mazda and the MINI. The MX-5 is the only sports car here – the others are all soft-top versions of hatchbacks – and as such is a more focused car to drive. It’s also well priced and comes loaded with equipment. However, the performance on offer doesn’t make it feel like a sports car. The MINI is just as quick, just as cute, has more cabin room and is a lot cheaper to run.